Hacking away at the First Amendment
In a momentous expansion of the government's authority to regulate public disclosure of national security information, a federal court ruled that even private citizens who do not hold security clearances can be prosecuted for unauthorized receipt and disclosure of classified information.
Judge Ellis himself seems uneasy with the outcome.
In the end, it must be said that this is a hard case, and not solely because the parties' positions and arguments are both substantial and complex. It is also a hard case because it requires an evaluation of whether Congress has violated our Constitution's most sacred values, enshrined in the First and the Fifth Amendment, when it passed legislation in furtherance of our nation's security. The conclusion here is that the balance struck by § 793 between these competing interests is constitutionally permissible because (1) it limits the breadth of the term "related to the national defense" to matters closely held by the government for the legitimate reason that their disclosure could threaten our collective security; and (2) it imposes rigorous scienter requirements as a condition for finding criminal liability.
[Via Dave Farber's IP list]
A False Sense of Insecurity
This is [almost] the name of a short paper written some two years ago by John Mueller, who holds the Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies at the Mershon Center of Ohio State University. On Tuesday, it was noted on Dave Farber's IP list as a paper that Bruce Schneier had called "interesting" on Monday. I call it outstanding.
[T]here is a perspective on terrorism that has been very substantially ignored. It can be summarized, somewhat crudely, as follows:
I was horrified for days after September 11. I had some feelings of concern for the kind of world my grandson was born into on nine days later. But I very quickly came to the conclusion that the actual risks were low, that the costs that society was (and continues) paying are much too high and that most of our politicians are playing directly into the hands of terrorists. On September 11, 2002 I even announced to several members of my family and to some close friends that Al Qaeda couldn't be much of a threat since a whole year had gone by with no further acts of terror from them.
Yes, there have been horrific and deplorable acts of terrorism in the following four years. Just yesterday came the news of a foiled plot to simultaneously blow up 10 planes over the North Atlantic. Somehow I expect to learn in the weeks ahead though that the threat was not what it's been made out to be.
And this article from the Washington Post. My expectations are being dashed.
Land of the free and home of the brave
Words can't convey how sick I feel upon reading this article from the New York Times:
A C.I.A. contractor broke both the agency's rules and the law when he used a two-foot-long metal flashlight to beat an Afghan man [named Abdul Wali] who later died, a prosecutor said Monday at the federal trial of the first American civilian charged with mistreating a detainee in Iraq or Afghanistan.
I sincerely hope Mr Gilbert is right, and that Mr Passaro is not guilty in every sense. One reason this story sickens me so is that it has become far too easy to believe that he actually is guilty and that this case is just one of many.
One prosecutor, Pat Sullivan, said Mr. Wali was chained to the floor and wall of a cell as Mr. Passaro kicked him and struck him with the flashlight and his fists. Once, he said, Mr. Passaro kicked his captive in the groin, having lined up like a football place-kicker. Mr. Passaro's fingerprints were on batteries from the flashlight, said Mr. Sullivan, adding that photographs to be shown the jury would detail the extent of Mr. Wali's injuries.
Other versions of the story allege that Mr Wali begged to be shot to be put out of his pain.
[Thanks to today's Capitol Hill Blue.]
U.S. Patent Office reform?
The U.S. patent system could be inching closer to an overhaul long desired by the technology industry.
In case anyone needs to be persuaded that there are serious problems with the current system, I offer Patent #6,368,227 ("A method of swing [sic] on a swing is disclosed, in which a user positioned on a standard swing suspended by two chains from a substantially horizontal tree branch induces side to side motion by pulling alternately on one chain and then the other") granted to a 5-year-old Minnesotan on 9 April 2002.
Did AOL publish your personal information?
AOL just released the logs of all searches done by 500,000 of their users over the course of three months earlier this year. That means that if you happened to be randomly chosen as one of these users, everything you searched for from March to May (2006) is now public information on the internet.
As a follow-up, someone who wishes to remain anonymous made an alarming discovery.
A search for an SSN shaped regex on the full AOL search data returns a 191 results including repeat searches. Many of these have full names, and at least a dozen include either an addresses, drivers license number, date of birth or some combination of the three in the same query. There's no telling how much more information an aggregation of other queries by those same user ID would yield.
As I understand this, if any of these half million AOL subscribers searched for personal information about me during the months of March, April and May this year, the queries they used are now available to anyone with Internet access, even though AOL has had second thoughts and removed access from their site.
"This was a screw-up, and we're angry and upset about it. It was an innocent enough attempt to reach out to the academic community with new research tools, but it was obviously not appropriately vetted, and if it had been, it would have been stopped in an instant," AOL, a unit of Time Warner, said in a statement. "Although there was no personally identifiable data linked to these accounts, we're absolutely not defending this. It was a mistake, and we apologize. We've launched an internal investigation into what happened, and we are taking steps to ensure that this type of thing never happens again."
With some concern for the ethics of doing so, I invite you to take a look at some specific searches performed by AOL users and imagine what it would feel like to have your searches on display here [via Declan McCullagh's Politech list].
The New York Times was able to determine the identity of searcher #4417749—a 62-year-old widow from Lilburn, Georgia—obtain her picture and interview her [thanks to Michael Geist's Internet Law News].